Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Let us not be like the gas man

Let us not be like the gas man


Russell Conway bemoans unintelligible styles of billing, and argues that lawyers' invoices are easier than others to digest

Getting letters at home is not much fun these days. It is generally going to be a fine for speeding, where you have been doing
32 miles per hour (mph) in a 30mph zone; an incursion into the congestion charge zone; perhaps a bank statement if you are lucky; and, of course, the gas man - but I will return to that one shortly

Social media means we
never get a postcard showing a perfect beach populated only by palm trees and surf. Relatives just text, WhatsApp, or message you on Facebook. I cannot actually remember when I last received a letter from a friend, which is rather sad. Letters
used to be rather a lot of fun, didn`t they?

But let's return to the gas man. He sends me a bill every quarter. This rankles a little as it is not really a bill as I pay by direct debit. The 'bill' actually demonstrates that I am owed money by the gas company.
But when I start reading the document I have to confess to glazing over a little. First the 'bill' is seven pages long. I suspect you probably need a higher mathematics qualification of some sort to make heads or tail of it. The consumption charge is estimated and the units actually consumed appear to be a fiction. It is virtually impossible to know what is going on. I suspect they are quite pleased about that.

But I suppose people in glass houses should not throw stones. I have asked a few of my clients what they think of my bills. Solicitors have, it is true, been known to come in for some flack over billing. Apart from nobody actually welcoming a solicitor's bill, they have at least admitted they are easy to understand.

Generally my bills are just one side of A4 with some technical stuff on the back. I give a breakdown of the work done and how much they need to
pay me. Unless, of course, it is
a complex bill that has to be assessed by the court, in which case we could be talking about 50 pages with details of every minute spent on the case and
all kinds of weird jargon like 'disbursements' and 'assessment fee'. Clients have always had problems with such bills, which are difficult to understand and seem to be a foreign form of charging. What we take for granted, the man in the street simply does not understand.

Our conveyancing department gives a penny-for-penny breakdown of what a client will be eventually billed
at the commencement of a transaction and it is our proud boast that we rarely deviate from that estimate. It is so important that clients understand how we bill,
what we are billing, and
how the process operates.
If you bill every month (to be recommended), the client needs to know this. When I
get a new client I generally have an induction session when I explain the billing process.

Clients appreciate this.

Let us not be like the
gas man.

Russell Conway is senior partner at Oliver Fisher @Russboy11